LAS VEGAS -- For the Benderson Development Company, delving into Oracle business intelligence was initially done for one main reason: to get better bank loans.
The University Park, Fla.-based retail development company needed to build an inventory database for all the properties and units it owned and rented out. Its goal was to show those assets to banks in order to get more favorable loans.
“You need to start by introspecting,” Steve Whitton, IT project manager at the company, said during the Collaborate 2012 conference this week. “What are you really trying to get at? You need to be able to sit with the user and collaborate on the prototype and design. Having specific goals and working with the business folks is really important.”
Build and buy BI
The company’s first BI project was back in 2006. Over the years, Whitton and Benderson have settled on a middle ground when it comes to buying and building. The company’s overall IT strategy is to not do a lot of custom building.
But what executives at the company have discovered is that, at least for them, there is no such thing as buying something off the shelf and having it do everything you want.
So their attitude around BI is “build and buy.” In looking for BI options for the JD Edwards enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, the company customized a pre-built data warehouse with the help of RapidDecision and used features within Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) for dashboards, ad-hoc reporting and alerts to desktops and mobile devices.
BI projects ad infinitum
Tying a BI project to a business goal and getting business users involved is key to a successful BI project, Whitton said. Otherwise the IT department might get caught up in the bells and whistles of a BI product and just start measuring things for the sake of measuring them.
For Benderson, it was important to make sure that each BI project the company has done has had a sponsor, preferably one whose title begins with “chief.” The chief financial officer, for example, badly wanted the inventory database BI project.
It is also crucial to not get ahead of yourself, Whitton said. You don’t necessarily need to be doing predictive analytics when you don’t even have a handle on your General Ledger yet.
“Knowing when you’re done with a certain BI project is important,” he said. “BI projects can go on forever.”
One BI suite or many?
Finally, Whitton explained Benderson’s choice to use multiple business intelligence vendors.
For example, Benderson went with RapidDecision to help build its Oracle data warehouse, partly because the company was familiar with pulling data out of ERP systems such as JD Edwards, and partly because RapidDecision promotes its product as delivering real-time business intelligence. That was something that business users at Benderson pushed for, although Whitton said he might have done things differently if he had the chance.
“If we could do it over again, I would push back against users who said they needed real-time data,” he said. “We don’t have 100 purchases happening at once. You shouldn’t necessarily jump to the idea that you need a real-time solution.”
That said, Whitton and Benderson are happy with RapidDecision because of the company’s familiarity with JD Edwards.
Whitton’s bottom line is that using a heterogeneous BI architecture isn’t something you should away from.
“It’s nice if you can have one suite and that’s what all these vendors want you to do,” he said. “But it’s my view that all the big BI platforms are going to have basically similar capabilities, and they’re all decent.”